History of Literature

Margaret Mitchell


Margaret Mitchell



Margaret Mitchell

American novelist
in full Margaret Munnerlyn Mitchell

born November 8, 1900, Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.
died August 16, 1949, Atlanta

American author of the enormously popular novel Gone with the Wind.

Mitchell attended Washington Seminary in her native Atlanta, Georgia, before enrolling at Smith College in 1918. When her mother died the next year, she returned home. Between 1922 and 1926 she was a writer and reporter for the Atlanta Journal. After an ankle injury in 1926, she left the paper and for the next 10 years worked slowly on a romantic novel about the Civil War and Reconstruction as seen from a Southern point of view. The novel featured Scarlett O’Hara, a strong-willed coquette and jezebel. From her family Mitchell had absorbed the history of the South, the tragedy of the war, and the romance of the Lost Cause. She worked at her novel sporadically, composing episodes out of sequence and later fitting them together. She apparently had little thought of publication at first, and for six years after it was substantially finished the novel lay unread. But in 1935 Mitchell was persuaded to submit her manuscript for publication.

It appeared in 1936 as Gone with the Wind (quoting a line from the poem “Cynara” by Ernest Dowson). Within six months 1,000,000 copies had been sold; 50,000 copies were sold in one day. It went on to sell more copies than any other novel in U.S. publishing history, with sales passing 12,000,000 by 1965, and was eventually translated into some 25 languages and sold in about 40 countries. It was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1937. The motion-picture rights were sold for $50,000. The film, starring Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable and produced by David O. Selznick, premiered in Atlanta on December 15, 1939, after an unprecedented period of advance promotion, including the highly publicized search for an actress to play Scarlett. It won eight major Oscars and two special Oscars at the Academy Awards and for two decades reigned as the top moneymaking film of all time. Mitchell, who never adjusted to the celebrity that had befallen her and who never attempted another book, died after an automobile accident in 1949. Four decades after Mitchell’s death, her estate permitted the writing of a sequel by Alexandra Ripley, Scarlett: The Sequel to Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone with the Wind” (1991), which was generally unfavourably appraised by critics. In 2001 Mitchell’s estate, citing copyright infringement, sued to block the publication of Alice Randall’s The Wind Done Gone (2001), a parodic sequel to Gone with the Wind told from a former slave’s perspective. Later that year the case was settled out of court. Mitchell’s estate eventually authorized a second sequel, Rhett Butler’s People (2007), which was written by historical novelist Donald McCaig.



Gone With the Wind

Margaret Mitchell
1900 -1949

Gone With the Wind's romanticized setting in Civil War and Reconstruction-era Georgia, as well as its central characters, the fiery Southern belle Scarlett O'Hara and her dashing husband Rhett Butler, have become the stuff of American mythology. Although David 0. Selznick's 1939 film helped to immortalize Mitchell's novel, the book had already enjoyed phenomenal sales upon first publication and went on to win the Pulitzer Prize, a year later, in 1937.

A sweeping historical saga, it follows Scarlett and her friends and relatives through a period of major upheaval in American social and economic history. The novel traces the transition from the agricultural society of the early 1860s, represented by Tara, the family plantation, to the beginnings of Southern industrialization in the 1880s. While it is famously a tale about Scarlett, Rhett, and Ashley's love triangle, Gone With the Wind is also a love letter to a place, the city of Atlanta, Georgia. Mitchell was born in Atlanta and grew up hearing stories of the antebellum city and the battles fought by the Confederate army. She lovingly details Atlanta's expanding and changing society in passages that reveal the extent of her historical research. However, Gone With the Wind is not an uncontroversial novel, and Margaret Mitchell's own sympathies with Southern slave owners and idyllic portrayal of pre¬war plantation society have exposed the book to an expansive cultural debate, producing critical analysis, protest, and even parody that continues today. Nevertheless, it remains an ambitious, gripping novel, and, far more importantly, an undisputed cultural phenomenon that not only helped to shape the direction of the American novel, but that has had a significant effect on America's popular conception of its own history.



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